The construction and infrastructure sector can make the most of COP26 through a range of opportunities for businesses arising from the conference and its aftermath, says Sarah Prichard.
The global COP26 conference in Glasgow will bring together a broad sweep of society to tackle the big issues. While diplomats and politicians will be engaging in the drama of international climate diplomacy, civil society, youth groups, academia, artists and – yes – business will be debating in the Green Zone.
Alongside a full programme of discussions, debates, award ceremonies and film premieres, the pavilion will feature more than 200 businesses showcasing their net zero story. Outside of the official conference, a series of virtual, hybrid and even some actual physical events will provide more opportunities for businesses of all shapes and sizes, working in all sectors, to get involved. It’s all adding up to be a noisy fortnight.
Despite the obvious difficulties in making ourselves heard, COP26 is still a vital showcase for our industry. It is hugely encouraging that our sector has been given prominence through the built environment day, and thanks to the Construction Leadership Council’s major event, we will be presenting a unified industry voice at possibly the most important climate conference in our lifetime.
Indeed, while politicians at home and on the international stage make much of global targets and commitments, the truth is that the devil is in the detail and only our industry, as the true delivery partner of choice for government, can help turn these aspirations into tangible reality.
Once the relatively easy wins of switching to renewable energy production are made, the truly challenging questions will need to be asked. How do we deal with the embedded carbon in our built environment and housing stock? How can we find sustainable solutions for travel, notably aviation and shipping? How can we design, deliver and manage the carbon free world of tomorrow?
These are the challenges that ACE and EIC member companies, like my own Buro Happold, relish and the global platform of COP26 is a great place to further showcase our already world-renowned expertise. We recognise that even if we don’t get it perfectly right from the outset, that we have to start by starting – and we can always course-correct as we start to travel in the right direction. It’s now time to move from advocacy to action!
More broadly, there is also business opportunity in success for the conference as a whole. It would help to cement the UK’s role as an environmental leader, providing an international boost to many working in our sectors.
While many of the solutions we are collectively working on are developed here in the UK, they are likely to be applicable around the world, no matter the location. So, there is huge international potential in the innovation and approaches we are already developing as the country moves towards net zero.
Please do come on the journey with us. No matter how small a contribution we can each make, through doing so, we will collectively make the much-needed difference.
Sarah Prichard is chair of the ACE and EIC net zero group and the UK managing director at Buro Happold.